Best Ever Mac and Cheese

Sometimes the best meals are made impromptu, completely unplanned, on a hungry whim before a technologically-inept appliance. You grab noodles- the remainder of a folded and torn cellophane bag packed and moved from one home to another for this exact purpose. The whole bag gets dumped into a pot brimming with salted boiling water, because noodles are thirsty and you are hungry and time is of the essence here. A second pan is devoted to saucing this carbohydrate platter, but of what ingredient and what influence? Cheese, of course. You grab cheese, because you definitely don’t have tomato sauce, and you beyond a doubt don’t have the ingredients to make tomato sauce. Cheese- a Mexican blend, it turns out; half an onion; seasonings, why not?; the flour, the milk. It whisks together and the pasta finishes boiling. Approximately eleven minutes have passed. Something healthy, something healthy… you ponder. Ah, a bed of spinach. It’s moderately wilted, insistently structuring its cells with a dehydrating buoyancy, but serves the purpose of “vegetables” all the same. You add the pasta to the sauce, aggressively coating and stirring to achieve that drenching effect. Pasta is haphazardly strewn across spinach leaves, which defeatedly wither on contact, and the plate is dropped against the dinner table. Sit down, fork in hand, breathe once. And suddenly- the best ever mac and cheese to ever grace your lips. Is it hunger? Who knows. But the whirlwind memory stays in flashes; ingredients are marked duly in your brain. You’ll need to make this again.

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Best Ever Mac and Cheese

Serves 1 super hungry person, probably 2-3 reasonable people

3/4 cup whole wheat penne (or macaroni if you’re a traditionalist or otherwise prepared)

1 tbsp. butter

1/2 cup diced yellow onion

1 tbsp. smoked paprika

Salt & pepper, to taste

3 tbsp. flour

3/4 cup milk, anything but skim

1/3 cup shredded cheese (I used a mexican blend from Trader Joe’s)

Spinach to serve

In a large pot of salted boiling water, add the noodles. Cook according to package directions, maybe just shy of their instruction (9.5 minutes instead of 10). Strain the noodles and set aside (ideally for minimal minutes).

Sauté the diced onion in the butter over medium low heat for 10 minutes, until softening and translucent. Add the paprika, salt, and pepper. Stir in the 3 tbsp. of flour until fully incorporated with the butter, forming a thick paste. Whisk in 3/4 cup of milk and bring to a boil over the same low temperature. Continue whisking until a thick sauce forms, almost the consistency of nacho cheese from a terrible baseball game. Add in the cheese and whisk to combine. The sauce will be quite thick, but consequently very adherent to the noodles.

Add the pasta to the cheese sauce. Stir and stir and toss until the noodles are adequately and evenly coated. Serve atop a bed of spinach.

Die.

Well, that’s morbid. But, it’d be ok. Because you’ve had the best ever mac and cheese.

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Spicy Zucchini Pasta Arrabbiata with a Ton of Goat Cheese

I’m here to hyperbolize today. For one, zucchini is not pasta. For two, this is not a homemade arrabbiata sauce. For three, this isn’t a literal ton of goat cheese- more like 1.5 ounces. Whatever. It’s not hyperbole to say that the American summer drowns the population in zucchini. And when zucchini are 89 cents at the grocery store, or you have a sweet, farm-fresh zucchini hook-up, you start getting creative with recipes. Zucchini pasta is actually definitely not new for the Internet. I’ve seen a few recipes here and there, and I always imagined a mushy-textured bland delivery vessel for watery sauce. I just wasn’t that interested, I guess. But I have a bunch of zucchini, and I saw this recipe for a shaved summer squash salad. “That looks good,” I thought. And then I thought about blanching the zucchini, because do I even like it raw? And then things snowballed. I was adding Sriracha to my bowl and cooling off with a ton of goat cheese and freaking out about how I was going to blog about this dinner thisveryminute. And, check it out, I totally am. That’s right, I finished this meal 30 minutes ago, and I’m so pleased with it I have to write about it right now.

This dinner takes approximately 5 minutes to make, sets you back pretty much negative calories (cheese doesn’t count on top of vegetables), boasts nutrition stats like a Flintstone vitamin, and, yes, is incredibly delicious. It probably should be served with something substantial- some protein or something- just because alone it really is a bowl of vegetables. I’m not sure of the staying power, is what I’m saying. Anyways, when it’s too hot to cook in your apartment, and you’re overloaded with zucchini, and you just want a nice dinner that’s healthy and is something new, try this. Or, even, disregard all of that. Just try it.

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Spicy Zucchini Pasta Arrabbiata with a Ton of Goat Cheese

Serves 1 

1 zucchini, sliced thinly with a vegetable peeler

1/2 cup of green beans, rinsed and trimmed

1/4 cup Trader Joe’s Red Pepper Spread with Eggplant and Garlic

2 tsp. Sriracha

1/2 tsp. smoked paprika

1/4 tsp. salt

1/8 tsp. freshly cracked black pepper

1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper

Dash red chili flake

1 – 1.5 ounces goat cheese, crumbled

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Heat a pot of salted water to boiling.

In a bowl (I used my serving bowl), mix the red pepper and eggplant spread (Trader Joe’s has an awesome one) with the Sriracha and spices. Set aside.

Slice your zucchini into threads with a vegetable peeler (it doesn’t take that long- I promise. Alternatively, you could use a spiralizer if you have one. That’s cool). Rinse, trim, and chop your green beans into acceptable-sized pieces. Add the green beans to the boiling water. 2 minutes later, add the zucchini. Blanch for 3 minutes. Drain the green beans and zucchini through a strainer.

Add the zucchini pasta and green beans to the sauce. Stir to coat. Crumble a ton of goat cheese all over the top. Enjoy!

Asparagus and Roasted Tomato Egg Yolk Pasta

Memorial day weekend is one of the best of the year. It’s the time to embark upon any and all summer adventures. The pools open for visitors, the beaches start to fill, grills everywhere are lighted, and the brightening green grasses and trees are appreciated to their fullest extent. There is almost nothing in the world that makes me happier than seeing my dog Oscar bound with excitement on his first steps through the park’s green grass. Memorial day weekend screams, loudly, “SUMMER IS COMING!” And, oh my God, how incredibly ready we are. If you haven’t yet eaten ice cream, drank minimum one beer outside, or at least felt the fresh contact of sunshine, please, please drop what you are doing and enjoy. But, of course, if you’re in for the night, or maybe laying exhausted on the couch, meal planning for the week ahead (which promises nothing as fantastic as the weekend has held), here’s a delightful, summer inspired recipe to try.

If you freak out about egg yolk being added uncooked to the pasta, you can always skip it. However, it cooks lightly from the heat of the pasta and the pan, and it adds a creamy richness unparalleled by just butter or pasta alone. I don’t know about you, but there’s basically nothing better than a runny egg yolk dripping over vegetables, and that’s exactly what my intention was here. It kind of mimics pasta carbonara in this fashion, which has been eaten by indulgent Italians for years, so there’s really nothing to fear.

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Asparagus and Roasted Tomato Egg Yolk Pasta

Serves 2

4 oz. buckwheat or whole wheat pasta (something long and noodley)

2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

10-12 spears asparagus, trimmed

2 cups heirloom grape tomatoes

1/2 tsp. dried red pepper flake

Salt & pepper, to taste

1 egg yolk

1/3 cup Parmesan cheese, freshly shredded

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.

In a deep sauté pan over medium high heat, add the olive oil. Add the asparagus and tomato to the pan and sauté until the asparagus has softened and the tomatoes have started to blister open, about 10-15 minutes. Season with red chili flake, salt, and pepper.

Add the pasta to the salted boiling water and cook according to package directions, pulling from the water about 30 seconds to 1 minute “early” (buckwheat pasta takes about 3-4 minutes to cook, so watch carefully). Drain and add to the roasted vegetables. Remove the sauté pan from the heat.

Add the egg yolk to the pasta and toss until evenly coating the pasta and vegetables. I find tongs to be the easiest tool to use. Add the Parmesan cheese and toss again. Taste and season with additional salt and pepper as preferred.

As you can see, this comes together quite quickly. Definitely under 20 minutes. So indulge, enjoy, and relish in the impending delight that is summertime.

 

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Gnocchi with Balsamic Reduction and Garlic Kale

Ah! It’s been a whole week, and I haven’t had one moment to talk about dinner. Sunny, warmed up, Spring- and Summer-time Chicago is a demanding experience. People are always doing everything, preferably outdoors, at any and all hours, and yes, of course, you should go also. You should take your dogs on epic 2-hour walks down the lakefront, stopping to sprint and roll and tackle in the middle of dandelion-spotted verdant grass inherent only to the Midwest in late Spring. You should stare longingly at Lake Michigan, willing it with your mind to be warmer, knowing that regardless you can’t really swim in that bacteria-laden pool. You should run outside, in the morning, afternoon, or night, relishing the angles of the sun on the skyline and the dusted rooftops as the sun sets. You should certainly eat tacos on the sidewalks, with at least one margarita on the side. And yes, absolutely enjoy a happy hour flight down the street. You can feel the depths of winter siphoning out of your veins, and you can almost, almost forget it happened (maybe not this year entirely). But on those rare nights in, probably on Wednesday, you still need to eat dinner.

Gnocchi is responsible for the best meal of my life, hands down. Traveling Florence with my best friend way-too-many years ago, we stopped for lunch at a small restaurant off the main streets. We had a carafe of water and a glass of wine; I ordered gnocchi with tomato cream sauce and she ravioli. I’m certain she enjoyed her meal immensely, but I will never ever forget the pillowy, unbelievably cloud-like texture of the gnocchi I had that day. The tomato cream sauce was light but flavorful, just enough to coat the little dumplings of joy. I haven’t tried homemade gnocchi (yet), so returning to the US I’ve been accepting but somewhat disappointed in the gnocchi offerings. It doesn’t stop me from enjoying this Italian classic, but I should definitely try my hand at my own version.

Regardless, this gnocchi is really most about the accompaniments. The gnocchi is still, of course, soft and flavorful, but the balsamic reduction and vegetables and kale are perfect for an almost-summer dinner that still warms you up. It’s absurdly easy, also, so don’t let the word “reduction” fool you. It really just means “heat for awhile then serve.”

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Gnocchi with Balsamic Reduction and Garlic Kale

Serves 3-4

1 lb. gnocchi

1 cup balsamic vinegar

2 tbsp. olive oil, divided

1 yellow onion, diced

1 red bell pepper, diced

1 cup mushrooms, sliced

6 cups kale, washed and chopped

4 cloves garlic, minced

1/4 tsp. dried red pepper flake

1/4 cup fresh basil leaves, sliced thinly (chiffonade)

Salt & pepper, to taste

In a small sauce pan, heat the balsamic vinegar over medium-high heat until boiling. Reduce the heat to medium-low and allow to simmer, stirring occasionally, until reduced by half. It should be reduced in about 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and set aside.

Bring a large pot of water, salted, to boil.

In a large pan, heat 1 tbsp. olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion and peppers and sauté until just softening, about 5 minutes. Add the sliced mushrooms and cook until the mushrooms have softened, browned, and just releasing their juices. Season with salt and pepper.

While the vegetables are cooking, in a separate pan add 1 tbsp. olive oil over medium heat. Add the minced garlic and sauté until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the kale and stir. Cook the kale until just softening, about 5 minutes. Add salt, pepper, and red pepper flake to the kale and stir.

In the large pot of water, add the gnocchi and cook for about 3 minutes, or according to package directions.

Add the balsamic reduction to the vegetables and mix. Once the gnocchi has cooked, add the gnocchi to the pan as well. Stir thoroughly so all of the gnocchi and vegetables are coated.

To your serving plate, add a serving of garlic kale. Top with the balsamic-coated gnocchi and vegetables. Enjoy.

 

 

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Pasta e Fagioli (Tuscan White Bean Soup)

Can we call Chicago “Chiberia” again? Anyways, it’s cold. And I really want soup. And I’ve never made beans from scratch before. And I had all these sad vegetables begging for a purpose. All of these thoughts were equating a challenge: hadn’t I seen a beautiful pasta e fagioli soup recipe somewhere once before? Couldn’t I make a huge pot to eat for weeks, allowing myself to satiate my never-ending soup desire? Yes, yes I had. And, more importantly, yes I could! This soup is up for interpretation. Just mentioning to coworkers, friends, other people (who seemed oddly too interested in what I was eating) that I made pasta e fagioli opened up a series of remarks and interpretations. “Oh, doesn’t that soup have tomatoes?” “Isn’t that soup made with meat?” “What is that green stuff in there?” There was a lot of inquisition for a simple bowl of soup. Especially since pasta e fagioli means simply pasta with beans. That’s it. This soup must have pasta, and it must have beans. It doesn’t need tomatoes (I decidedly chose to have a tomato-less broth), and it doesn’t need meat. I added some vegetables, because I can’t imagine soup without them, and I love the heartiness that greens impart. But one thing I did intend was for this to be a Tuscan inspired soup. In glorious memory of Tuscany- a dreamy 2 days in Florence, Italy on vacation too many years ago- I imagined a hearty, simple, and, most importantly, flavorful soup. This soup is not an immediate thirty-minute-meal. It also isn’t as complex as a bolognese, requiring simmering for days. It is in fact relatively simple, although some prep work is required, as well as a bit of patience. But the reward for such virtues! It seems to me the best food is made this way. Give anything time to blend together, and something exponential is created. This soup is quite literally the definition of “greater than the sum of its parts.”

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Pasta e Fagioli (Tuscan White Bean Soup)

Adapted from this recipe

Serves 8-12

Prepared cannellini beans

  • 1 lb. dried cannellini beans
  • 8 cups of water
  • 2 tbsp. salt

2 tbsp. olive oil

1 large yellow onion, diced

4 stalks celery, diced

3 carrots, diced

4 cloves garlic, minced

1/2 tbsp. dried thyme

1 tsp. dried rosemary

1 cup vegetable stock

1 Parmesan rind

8 oz. dried pasta (I used miniature shells)

4 cups Tuscan kale, cut into 3 in. strips

Salt & pepper to taste

Freshly grated Parmesan cheese, to serve

To prepare the cannellini beans, combine dried beans, water, and salt in a large mixing bowl. Allow beans to soak for at least 8 hours, preferably overnight.

The night of cooking, preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Pour the olive oil into a large (LARGE) Dutch oven over medium heat. To the olive oil, add onions and sauté until softened and caramelizing, about 15 minutes (if the onions are browning too quickly, reduce heat to low). To the onions, once caramelized, add diced celery and carrots. Increase the heat to medium and sauté the vegetables together until the celery and carrots are just softened, about 5 minutes further. Add the spices and minced garlic and sauté until fragrant, no more than 1 minute. Deglaze the pan with 1 cup of vegetable stock, using a rubber spatula to loosen any browned bits from the pan.

Drain and rinse the dried beans that have been softening (they will still be quite firm). Add the beans to the vegetable and stock mixture and mix. Pour several cups of water into the pot until covering the beans by about 1 inch. Add the Parmesan rind to the mixture. Cover the Dutch oven with its lid and slide it into the oven, which should be heated to 375 degrees F. Set a timer for 1 hour.

After an hour, check the soup to determine the doneness of the beans. You’re looking for a softened texture with just a hint of a bite. I tasted a bean each time I checked until I determined doneness. If the beans are not fully cooked, cover the pot and return to the oven. Check the beans every 15-20 minutes until they are the desired texture. I found an hour and a half to be an appropriate cooking time; it will take more or less time depending on your pot, your oven, your beans, etc.

Once the beans are cooked fully, remove the pot from the oven and return it to the stovetop. Heat the soup over medium heat until simmering, which should happen very quickly. Add pasta to the simmering broth, adding water if the soup seems too thick. Cook the pasta for the recommended time. At about 1 minute until the pasta is considered “done,” add the kale ribbons and stir until wilted. Remove the Parmesan rind from the pot. Taste and season, being careful not to over-salt (the Parmesan will impart a salty flavor).

Serve in a soup bowl with an ample grating of fresh Parmesan. Inhale the comforting fumes, warm your hands on the sides of the bowl, and imagine that just for a second you don’t live in the freezing-cold Midwest. Then, eat your soup and decide you don’t care. Soup solves life’s problems.

Although this soup is somewhat labor intensive, a much easier version could be accomplished with using canned cannellini beans. This would require simply adding about 2-3 cans (rinsed) cannellini beans to the vegetables after deglazing, and adding several cups of vegetable stock until the appropriate bean-to-stock ratio is achieved. A Parmesan rind can be added, although it won’t have as much time to release its flavor. This soup could be simmered for 15-20 minutes until adding the pasta and resuming the original recipe, meaning the start-to-finish time would probably be more like 45 minutes, rather than 2+ (26+) hours. However, it will be missing that slow-simmered quality, which is really what makes this simple soup delicious pasta e fagioli. But, some weeknights call for speed. This recipe can also be halved, quartered, etc. much more simply with canned beans, or, alternatively, using only 1/2 the bag of dried beans at the onset. In total, it’s a very adaptable recipe; although, you’ll be glad to have the leftovers in your freezer come Polar Vortex 3.

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What’s better than warm soup in a large mug?

Tuna and Mushroom Casserole

It’s finally warming up in Chicago, and by that I mean walking the line of below- and above-freezing, but it feels like Spring in Chiberia (colloquial internet term applicable for the next 15 minutes). And now, of course, I want pasta again. I never said my cravings were logical. It is still rather cold, so eating these kind of heavy comfort foods definitely satisfies in that deep, nap-producing way. In fact, I think I’ve mistakenly taken a nap every time I’ve eaten this meal. So, I guess this bears warning: do not eat pasta casseroles unless you can theoretically take a nap afterwards. My mom is probably noticing immediately that I’m reproducing a classic weeknight meal growing up: Tuna Noodle (Meddle, per our pronunciation) Casserole. It’s a midwestern classic, pairing up a bunch of I-always-have-this canned foods and egg pasta. And while the mid-century recipe of course provided my inspiration, I couldn’t help but elevate this to a from-scratch, vegetable-heavy modern version with a little more flavor and a little less sodium. It takes longer, though, so I’m definitely not knocking the original prep, which I believe was mostly dump, stir, microwave, bake. I promise preparing from scratch is worth it, though, and certainly not overly labor intensive. We’ll see if I can convince anyone in my family to go at it the “hard” way.

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Tuna and Mushroom Casserole

Serves 4-6

8 oz. whole wheat egg noodles

1 tbsp. olive oil

1/2 yellow onion, diced

16 oz. white and cremini mushrooms, sliced

2 cups spinach

1/2 tsp. dried parsley

1/4 tsp. dried thyme

1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper

Salt & pepper to taste

1/4 cup flour

1 can tuna, ideally sustainably caught, drained

1 cup milk

1 cup chicken or vegetable stock

1 cup breadcrumbs (or crushed crackers if you want to stick with the classics)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

In a large pot, bring salted water to a boil. Add pasta and cook according to package directions, usually about 7-10 minutes. Undercook the pasta by a minute or two to maintain texture after baking. Once pasta is cooked, set aside.

In a large and deep oven-safe saute pan or Dutch oven, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add onion and saute until translucent, approximately 5-8 minutes. Add sliced mushrooms and saute until softened, browning, and releasing their juices, about 5-10 minutes longer. Add spinach and seasonings and mix. Toss 1/4 cup of flour over the vegetable mixture and stir until incorporated and no longer visible, about 1-2 minutes. Mix the milk and stock together and pour over the vegetables, using a rubber spatula to loosen the browning bits from the bottom of the pan. Bring the liquids to a boil, then reduce heat to medium low and simmer until thickened, about 5-10 minutes (we’re aiming for cream of mushroom soup consistency). Once thickened, add tuna and stir until fully incorporated.

Add the pasta to the vegetables and tuna. Spread the pasta mixture evenly throughout the pan and sprinkle breadcrumbs or crushed crackers on top. Place the pan in the oven and bake for 25-30 minutes, until the sauce is bubbling and the breadcrumbs are golden brown.

Scoop into bowls and serve hot, being careful not to burn yourself on the pan handle, which I definitely did. Caution aside, this is the kind of food best eaten on the couch in your pajamas, so that when you’re finished, you can easily slip into nap position. It may be warm and heavy, but laden with as many vegetables as noodles, it’s pretty healthy nonetheless. It’s also horribly not photogenic, but don’t judge; it was good sustenance for our grandparents, and it’s good enough for me (and you, Brian).

Pasta Salad with Lemon Vinaigrette and Sun-dried Tomatoes

It’s approaching the day. Monday. The day in which I finally discover what -20 degrees Fahrenheit feels like. With wind chill, I imagine the meteorologists will claim the air “feels like” it is even colder, which is unfathomable, because who can possibly discern between temperatures that cold? If any of your skin is exposed, it’s instantly numbed, so what “feeling” will I be doing exactly? Regardless, I should be binging on soup and hot chocolate and deeply warm dinners, but instead I’m still yearning for fresh, bright, vegetable-heavy dishes that almost let me believe Spring is in the reasonable future (It’s not. At all). It probably helps that I’m planning monthly vacations to decidedly warmer climates to ease the pain of continuing this horrible Chicago winter. I’ll almost definitely be diving back into comfort food by mid-week, once I regain feeling in my limbs and tongue, but for the weekend, with highs in the mid-twenties, I’ll turn the heat down a bit, put on a sweatshirt, and dig into some delightful pasta and vegetables.  Beyond fresh and remarkably flavorful, this pasta salad is also quite quick to come together, and it serves perfectly as either an entree or side. So add it to your favorite chicken dish, Brian, or just pile it into a bowl. Either way, please don’t skimp on the sun-dried tomatoes.

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Pasta Salad with Lemon Vinaigrette and Sun-dried Tomatoes

Serves 4 for a meal, 6 for a side

6 oz. pasta

3 cups spinach

1 large cucumber, sliced thinly

Several stalks of green onions, sliced

1/3 cup sun-dried tomatoes, chopped roughly

3 oz. feta cheese, crumbled

Juice of 1 lemon

1 tbsp. oil from sun-dried tomatoes

1 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

1 tsp. honey

1/4 tsp. salt

1/4 tsp. dried thyme

1/4 tsp. dried oregano

1/8 tsp. cayenne peper

1/8 tsp. freshly cracked black pepper

Bring a large pot of water to a boil, with a heavy pinch of salt added. Add pasta and cook according to package directions. I used a mixture of gemelli and bowtie pasta, because I didn’t have quite enough of either (and now I’m out of pasta entirely). These pasta cooked for the same amount of time, which I’d advise if you’re mixing. Once cooked, set aside to cool slightly.

In a lidded jar or a bowl, add lemon juice, oil from the jar of sun-dried tomatoes, olive oil, honey, and spices. Shake the jar or whisk vigorously until the liquids form a smooth vinaigrette. (If the liquids are too cold, and the honey won’t dissolve, heat the mixture for about 10 seconds in the microwave to facilitate the emulsion process). Pour the lemon vinaigrette over the pasta and mix to combine.

While the dressed pasta is cooling, chop the cucumber into thin quarter-rounds (I slice the entire cucumber down the longitudinal axis so it’s halved, then slice each half longitudinally again to make long cucumber quarters. Line up the quarters and slice thinly, approximately 1/4 inch slices). Slice green onions thinly, and chop the sun-dried tomatoes. Toss the pasta with the sliced vegetables until evenly mixed. Refrigerate the pasta and vegetables until more significantly cooled, about 30 minutes to an hour.

Once the pasta is cooler, toss with feta cheese and spinach, mixing thoroughly. It is now complete! Refrigerate for an additional 4-6 hours, or overnight ideally, to serve cold. The flavors marry and become more deliciously intense with time, so I find this pasta to be better and better each day. I more or less ate it for every meal at home for 3 days straight. So forget about the temperatures, Brian; eat your vegetables and pretend it’s warm outside.

Sharp Cheddar Macaroni and Cheese with Mushrooms and Kale

Ah, who in the midwest isn’t craving hearty, cheesy, warm, melty macaroni and cheese? As the temperature drops palettes change to demand warm, heavy dinners; there’s an inverse relationship between weather and healthy eating, I think. Except maybe if you can squeeze a couple vegetables into even the most indulgent of dishes. Not that were shooting for pale diet food; rather, let’s just eat something that tastes good and satisfies that ever-demanding need for pasta in December.  I’m at it again with the vegetarian menu, although this is anything but a side dish. The mushrooms are meaty and hearty, in an appealing vegetable way (not a gross this-is-fake-meat way). And the kale is there to substantiate the plate and give an occasional deep crunch (also you probably have a bit left over, I’d think?). This comes together pretty quickly, if you’re a multi-tasker. Otherwise you may leave things to simmer as you move onto the next task. Either way, this cooks warm, stays warm, goes down warm, and leaves you somewhat sleepy.

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Sharp Cheddar Macaroni and Cheese with Mushrooms and Kale

Serves 2-3

4 oz. (1 cup) gemelli pasta* (or your preferred pasta shape)

2 tsp. olive oil

8 oz. cremini mushrooms, sliced

Large bunch kale, rinsed and chopped

1 tbsp. butter

2 cups milk, anything but skim

2 tbsp. flour

3 oz. sharp cheddar cheese, shredded (by hand from a block, for freshness, preferably)

Salt & pepper, to taste

Bring a large pasta pot to boil with water and a heavy pinch (or pinches) of salt. Add pasta and cook according to package directions, preferably undercooking by a minute or two to keep al dente (italics for pretension, thanks).

(If you’re a multi-tasker, while water is coming to a boil, slice mushrooms, wash and chop kale, and shred your cheese).

As the pasta is cooking, add 2 tsp. olive oil to a large skillet over medium heat. Saute mushrooms until softened, browning, and releasing their juices, approximately 5-8 minutes. Add kale and saute until wilted, about 2-3 minutes longer. Season and pour into a bowl on the side, to be added back in later.

In the same skillet, after vegetables are done and pasta is ideally still boiling away, melt 1 tbsp. of butter over low heat. In a large ball jar, add 2 tbsp. flour and 2 cups of milk. Shake, shake, shake until the mixture is smooth and creamy without discernible flour lumps. Pour the flour-milk mixture into the skillet with melted butter and whisk over low heat until it is melded and smooth.** Increase the heat to medium low, bring the mixture to a gentle simmer, and let reduce until thickened to an admirable consistency, approximately 5 minutes or so.

(If you’re a multi-tasker, your pasta finished cooking while the milk-butter-flour mixture was simmering. Drain your pasta, toss with a touch of olive oil in the strainer, and set aside).

Once the milk mixture has reduced, add grated sharp cheddar cheese and whisk over low heat until it melts into the sauce. Once the sauce has come together, toss pasta with the sauce in the pan over low heat, until mixed thoroughly. Cook pasta in the sauce for 1-2 minutes to bring to an al dente (eh hem) texture. Add vegetables back into the pan and fold into the pasta. Remove from heat and serve.

I ate this with a side of steamed broccoli, but, rest assured, this meal suffices on its own (with enough nutritional value to boot).

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* I love gemelli pasta. I don’t know what it is about the texture or the way it adheres to sauce so well or the way I can grab just the perfect amount of noodles on my fork; to me, it is perfect.

** The sauce technically being created here is a béchamel (autocorrected accent), and, with the addition of cheese, a mornay sauce. Traditionally, this is prepared by heating together butter and flour over low heat to create a roux, which then is used to thicken the later-added warm milk. By preparing this sauce with milk shaken with flour, you end up using less butter and less flour, which lowers the calorie count of the recipe. Nonetheless, the sauce is delicious, and I scarcely can tell the difference (especially once there’s cheese).